It's possible that the next prime minister will be a Scot. There are two in the race to succeed Theresa May, to become both Tory leader and prime minister. Michael Gove, 51, the environment secretary, is the more experienced, cerebral, the more bloodied by years in politics and journalism, a fearsome debater – his shredding of Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons in January – 'We now know from Labour's own front bench that their official Brexit position is bollocks' – was a masterclass in fluent brutality.
Born in Edinburgh, he was adopted by an Aberdeen family when four months old: his adoptive father had a fish business. Educated at a state school and Oxford, where he was president of the union, he now represents Surrey Heath, one of the wealthiest constituencies in the country, and one of the safest for the Tories. The discovery of his cocaine taking, though, will do him harm. A chancer like Boris Johnson could carry it: Gove is too proper in his demeanour for it not to be jarring on the MPs who will make the choice.
Rory Stewart, 46, is a different kind of Scot. He was born in Hong Kong, where his father was a diplomat, and who later became the deputy director of MI6. He was raised in a country house near Crieff; educated at Eton and Oxford, became an army officer, still in his 20s, held senior posts in the regional governance of Iraq which included command of the base from which he worked when besieged by militia loyal to the anti-coalition cleric, Muqtata al-Sadr. He later worked for an NGO to restore damaged buildings in Kabul. In a portrait of him in the New Yorker in 2010, Ian Parker said of him that his 'manner marks him immediately to the British as someone with ruling-class roots'.
He was selected for the rural constituency of Penrith and the Border in 2010: he's now (since 1 May) the international development secretary. His career recalls that of the novelist John Buchan (1875-1940) – though Buchan was born in a Glasgow Free Kirk manse, and made himself into what Stewart was born to. That is, an Anglo Scot with an elite education, with service in the military, an ethic of patriotic service and conspicuous courage, in politics a progressive Conservative.
But the front runner is Boris Johnson, said to be regarded in Scotland with a loathing hitherto reserved for Thatcher. He was reported as having been barred from the Tory conference in Aberdeen in early May by Scots Conservative leader Ruth Davidson: the Scots Tories had, it seemed, launched 'Operation Arse' to stop him becoming leader. This after private polling showed he would reverse some of the party's gains in Scotland.
That now seems to have been dropped. Johnson did go to Aberdeen, though after the conference: the Aberdeen Press and Journal reported that he was enthusiastically received at a sell-out fundraising dinner organised by the local Conservatives. In a meeting with David Mundell, the Scottish secretary, he was reported as promising to protect the whisky industry, assist the oil and gas sector and expand the seasonal agricultural workers scheme – all central concerns.
It's an open question if he wishes to be prime minister of the United Kingdom, or would settle for England and Wales. He's easily caricatured as a posh right-winger, with a talent to amuse: easily, because that's the way he has, much of the time, presented himself. He has shown little interest in either Scotland or Northern Ireland: the intriguing question which has hung around him is whether or not there is more to him.
In any case, here is what he – or any of the Tory candidates for leadership – should understand.
• Scotland was a nation state when it signed the 1707 Treaty of Union, and remains a nation more than three centuries after it. Margaret Thatcher's tendency to see it it as a region, requiring the same strong medicine as the rest of the UK, was opposed by two Scots in her shadow cabinet – Alick Buchanan Smith, shadow Scottish secretary and Malcolm Rifkind, his deputy, who resigned: though Rifkind later became the Scottish secretary of state.
To repeat that performance, either by design or neglect, would be a bad mistake: and so fragile are relations between Westminster and Holyrood after Brexit, so certain are so many SNP supporters that this is the time they can win a majority, that a mistake would have graver consequences for the union than the demonstrations provoked by the imposition of the poll tax. The poll tax was dropped: Scotland's secession from the UK could not be.
• Scots – especially unionist Scots – dislike the conflation between 'Britain' and 'England'. The new leader must enthusiastically invoke the common Britishness of the four nations of the UK – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. To slip into the habit of assuming England is Britain would be to undo the work Davidson did in reviving the Tory party in Scotland and pushing back the nationalists.
• The non-Scots should, for their part, work to avoid appearing like an identikit English Conservative politician. In this, the generally bland foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt is at a disadvantage; Boris Johnson, oddly, at a possible advantage. Scots like a 'card' as much as anyone: if Johnson, or any other aspiring leader, could hit a vein of self-deprecating humour without tipping over into eccentricity or condescension, he might win over a sizeable chunk of the Scots electorate. If, however, he shows himself as lazy, pompous and chaotic as prime minister as he did as foreign secretary, he will indeed be loathed – and not just in Scotland.
• A new prime minister would have a delicate balancing act. Many English were and remain upset by the Blair cabinets being full of Scots, took against Gordon Brown and resent the extra public spending given to Scotland. English nationalism isn't the far right spectre many liberals and leftists think it is: but it's growing, and if the union is to survive, it must both be accommodated and harnessed to the necessary task of renewing the union.
He or she must address the English question while simultaneously stressing common British citizenship: and must tirelessly boost the merits of the British union over the European Union – the latter much favoured by the SNP. A third of Scots voted leave – and the SNP would retain both the monarchy and the pound, afraid of frightening their supporters by appearing too radical. There is a unionist case to be made in questioning why, with so much in common, secession should be contemplated. At all times the new leader must stress his or her commitment to a united Britain, in which the small nations (especially Scotland) are precious.
• Scotland is not a lost cause to the Conservatives. Davidson remains the main factor in their recovery: a careless prime minister could ruin much of her work. He or she must keep close to Davidson, both to show that the two speak as one, but also to benefit from her experience and knowledge of the country's politics.
• If Scotland is not a lost cause, neither is it another planet: as the pollsters' pollster, John Curtice, reminds us, the two nations' peoples have mostly similar attitudes to most things. The differences between it and England have been ruthlessly exaggerated by the nationalists. Britain's population is mongrel: those jostling for the leadership are typical in being mixed in their origins. Of the contenders, Gove and Stewart are Scots, Amber Rudd and Esther McVeigh have Irish roots, Dominic Raab is part-Jewish, Sajid Javid is from a first generation immigrant Pakistani family and Johnson has a Turkish grandfather.
Scots, while retaining a separate culture, have both shared it and taken in much more – especially a youth culture more open to the rest of the UK, and to the world – than ever before. A new Tory PM shouldn't approach them as to a growling dog – but as fellow citizens.